By Jenny Wu
I arrive alone, wearing high heels and a tight business dress. My heart is beating a little faster than normal and my eyes are frantically searching for someone I know. I try to lock eyes with someone so that I can find a temporary home in what feels like a sea of strangers. Everyone else looks happily engaged in their conversations — laughing, chatting, and most importantly, looking confident.
While it might remind you of a high school dance, I’m referring to my entrance at a networking event at Cal. Perhaps some of you share similar feelings, but don’t panic. Here comes the good news: people go to these events to meet strangers. Thus, you are in the same position as everyone else in that grand meeting room which might seem intimidating at first glance. Becoming comfortable in doing something unfamiliar is an important milestone along the path of challenging yourself.
Here is some of my advice from my experience while networking.
First and foremost, be yourself. Once upon a time, I thought that networking events are meant to be catalysts for relationship building. Thus, I drew the conclusion that I had to pretend to be as aggressive and ambitious as possible, which made me feel tired and uncomfortable. I always assumed that it was just how networking should be until an industry professional that I had been in touch with for a year said that he liked the relaxed and genuine me better. I was shocked and confused at first. However, I gradually realized that if you can’t be yourself, you would be starting these relationships off with a lie. Don’t try to be the person you think others want to meet. Be genuine. Everyone wants to stay in touch with people who are authentic. Who wants to stay in touch with a fake person?
Secondly, be open-minded and have reasonable expectations. When attending an event, don’t be too narrow minded in terms of your goal. Yes, it is an information session of a company that you are interested in. However, you can benefit from more than just the business cards with contact information; the valuable insights from experienced industry professionals are of equal, if not greater importance. I remember a Vice President of Goldman Sachs saying that the main, yet overlooked, purpose of college is to learn how to learn. The major goal in talking to people is to see how the others think. This is especially beneficial when you are chatting with someone that holds more life experience than you do. Talking with them can push you and encourage you to think about the world in a different perspective, perhaps even with a more critical view. With that, don’t regard networking as a burdensome task in which you have to put on your mask, pretend to be someone else, and try to get the contact information of someone who may get you an internship in future. Be open-minded and relaxed.
All in all, networking is a chance for you to shine in your true self. Pay attention to the content of the speech and the insightful answers during individual conversations. Regardless of whether the professional you contact replies your coffee chat email, the different ways of thinking and gaining valuable insights after many years of work will never fail to benefit you.